Early last month, Tausug villagers on the Southern Philippine island of Jolo heard a buzzing sound not heard before. It is a sound familiar to the people of Waziristan who live along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, where the United States fights the Taliban. It was the dreaded drone, which arrives from distant and unknown destinations to cause death and destruction. Within minutes, 15 people lay dead and a community plunged into despair, fear and mourning.
The US drone strike, targeting accused leaders in the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah organisations, marked the first time the weapon has been used in Southeast Asia. The drone has so far been used against Muslim groups and the Tausug are the latest on the list.
Just as in Pakistan and other theatres of the “war on terror”, the strike has provoked controversy, with a Filipino lawmaker condemning the attack as a violation of national sovereignty. This controversy could increase with the recent American announcement that it plans to boost its drone fleet in the Philippines by 30 per cent. The US already has hundreds of troops stationed on Jolo Island, but until now, the Americans have maintained a non-combat “advisory” role.
The expansion of US’ drone war has the potential to further enflame a volatile conflict involving the southern Muslim areas and Manila, which has killed around 120,000 people over the past four decades. To understand what is happening in the Philippines and the US’ role in the conflict, we need to look at the Tausug, among the most populous and dominant of the 13 groups of Muslims in the South Philippines known as “Moro”, a pejorative name given by Spanish colonisers centuries ago.
This article is highly recommended, as is the rest of the series which uses in-depth case studies from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to “explore how a litany of volatile centre/periphery conflicts with deep historical roots were interpreted after 9/11 in the new global paradigm of anti-terrorism - with profound and often violent consequences.”